Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I'm a veterinarian.

I really love my career. I work with a great team of doctors, have some really great clients, enjoy being challenged and being able to learn from it and I get to hang out with dogs, kittens and geriatric cats (my favorite) all day long. Part of my responsibility is to assist animals as they die with the goal being a "good death" or euthanasia.

I think that I have just about seen it all when it comes to saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Once, a woman brought a bunch of friends to hold hands in a circle and chant while I sat in the middle euthanizing her cat. One family put together a box for their cat to lay in after he was dead. It contained a family picture (including the cat), cards and pictures drawn by the kids and a Google map so that the cat could find his way home once he had passed on. I've euthanized dogs in the back of a pick-up truck and in the backyard. I've taken pictures, clipped locks of hair, made paw prints, sang, prayed and chanted. Sometimes I cry with my clients and other times I cry in the bathroom after they've gone home.

Always, ALWAYS my number one priority is making this process as smooth for the animal and family as possible. It's hard enough as it is. I have a routine and if I may say so, I think I conduct a damn fine euthanasia!

Today, we said goodbye to a nearly 16 year old Basset hound. It was time to say goodbye and her owner wanted to be with her, as many owners do. Not a part of her health woes but worth mentioning were her roll-y veins, generalized anxiety and yeasty, saggy, redundant skin. These features are important because both catheters we successfully placed fell right out. Every other attempt was met with a blown vessels or one that just rolled away or collapsed whenever a needle came near it. After working at this for over an hour I was ready to do a cut-down to expose a vessel. Ultimately, we used a marginal ear vein. Those ears that had caused her to have terrible ear infections all her life were finally something more than pretty today - they were useful.

Finding the words to express just how disappointed I feel about this is impossible. I am devastated for the client, who was so outwardly understanding but must have been burning inside. At least, I would have been if I were in her place. I am so sad for the dog who deserved a good death. Even though we did our best I don't think this dog died the most peaceful death I intended to pull off for her. And I am sad with myself. Of course, I'll spend a lot of time thinking about this - what to do to minimize the possibility of it happening again. I can't tolerate this not going perfectly every single time but nature is a powerful wild card and sometimes things just happen. It's sucks.

Next time you see your vet just remember that she might be thinking about the $150,000 of student loan debt she has. She might be thinking of the 30 calls she needs to return or the charts she still hasn't written up from 3 days ago. She might even be thinking about how she's not going to make it home in time to put her kids to bed...again.
But the one thing I promise she is thinking about the very most is how best to help your pet feel as good as possible for as long as possible. When that doesn't happen as smoothly as intended, she probably loses sleep about it. Like I said, I love what I do but I'm so glad that days like this one are few and far between.

Pourin' it out.

2 Lovies:

Shell said...

That would be such a hard part of your job. xo

Anonymous said...

Must have had your Basset's twin a bit ago. Between the rolls, the yeast, the thickened skin and roll-y veins, just about impossible. I know how it goes and feel you, girl! Recently had an aortic saddle thrombus cat that wouldn't respond to the sedation I gave it, has to have been in immense pain that I couldn't control, was fighting like the dickens when restrained (scratched the client twice, bit my tech) and had impossible vessels. Dad was an EMT so I think he understood but I hate it when nature works against your best efforts in that last moment. It's the ones that don't go well that haunt you. Hugs, Katie